I set off from home at 05:30 on Sunday morning and I was soon caught in a snow storm. All lanes of the M61 were covered. However I had faith. The forecast had predicted snow showers to the south of the region. I was surprised one had strayed so far north. It couldn't last, and sure enough it didn't. By the time I reached the M6 any signs of snow quickly vanished.
I arrived at the 1st Kendal Scout Hut 1.5 hours later to typical That's Lyth conditions – cool, calm and dry, with a sunny day in prospect. In fact it turned out a little colder than usual because it remained frozen throughout apart from where the sun got to the ground towards the end.
It was the usual sell-out. At £4 a pop and with that scenery it's hardly surprising. The hut was heaving before the final slow exodus to the road outside for the start. After some inaudible murmurings from an official standing on the wall, we were off along the riverside before veering off to the left and uphill to exit Kendal and climb into the countryside.
This was my 7th time running this event. Although I had the route description in my hand I never once needed to refer to it. I just followed my nose along the route and let my memory be jogged as I went along. The runners in front of me also knew where they were going, for the most part.
In contrast to last week's Hebden and its frequent checkpoints, there are only 3 checkpoints on this event – at Crosthwaite Memorial Hall (7 miles), Witherslack Parish Hall (14 miles) and Cotes Corner (18 miles).
The first section undulates across a golf course, fields and lanes. The second section becomes more interesting and involves a climb up to Whitbarrow summit memorial cairn, from where the 360 degree views are spectacular. I never pause for long enough to take them in because I'm always in a hurry and eking the last vestige of speed out of my body with its somewhat deficient cardiovascular system. This time was no different. In fact I was amazed at the pace I was sustaining considering my recent lack of fitness. A week seemed to have made a surprising difference.
The third section involves the boring slog across the wide, flat Lyth Valley towards Levens. The idea is to keep something in reserve to be able to run this and get it over with. There was once a time when I couldn't do it but now I am able to just sustain a shuffle all the way across. While I was doing this I was slowly overtaken by one of the several dogs on the event and his master. When the pooch was adjacent to me he suddenly turned around and laid flat in the gutter. I looked round and realised he had heard a car approaching from behind. It was far away and moving slowly and I hadn't heard it. He remained motionless until the car was passing, then he was off in hot pursuit (from the safe end of the car) and catching up with his master in the process. Whether it's training or herding instinct I don't know, but it's impressive and amusing. (I'm sure I saw the same dog do the same thing last year as well.)
The fourth section after George's garage gets interesting again. The climb up Scout Scar in the winter sunshine with such clarity to the views was spectacular. The snow covered mountains way over to our left across the valley stood out clearly. I really should have taken a series of portraits through ~180 degrees to stitch together into a panorama, but I didn't have time. I was still pushing for that best possible time. I'm too darned competitive with myself.
I was running with Geoff H by now. We had both slowed considerably but I was still keeping the shuffle going, even on the uphills. It was 0.1 miles per hour faster than walking, so it was. We soon arrived at the cairn (I'm sure that pile of stones has seriously grown over the past year) and the right turn up and over the ridge before the final descent, across the ancient disused race course to the road. A left turn and more downhill road brought us back into Kendal and the finish. It was easy downhill and we should have run much faster but we had no more to give. Our early fast pace had drained us too much. Our final time of 4:03 was within a minute or two of my time of last year and 14 minutes outside my PB of the year before. Not bad considering last week's poor effort. I wasn't drained by my efforts this time either. Finally I felt fulfilled.
The winning time of 2:55 (apparently) was achieved by an alien from another planet with unimaginable superhuman ability. It's all in the genes, you know.
The volunteers and marshals did their usual amazing job. Lots of post-event conversing and catching-up was had over soup, rolls, doughnuts, cake and tea. I left my portion of rice pudding and tinned fruit to some other lucky person. The organisers really could increase their entry fee. I don't think anyone would utter a word of complaint. £4 is embarrassing.
I will be back in 2011, God willing. The measly eight pictures I took are here.
Postscript – VFF update.
The following two days (Monday and Tuesday) I have run to work in the fivefingers without any issues. My feet and ankles feel pleasantly exercised without being traumatised. I have adopted a different running style that doesn't trash my calf muscles. Instead of always forefoot landing, I land just on my heels but virtually flat, with bent knees and taught abdomen to cushion each footfall as much as possible. I only use forefoot landing occasionally when necessary. The limbs like it. My run home in the rain and dark this evening without torch, through the mud and puddles along the stony track, demanded ultra delicate foot placement. It worked like a dream. My precious fivefingers received their first serious soiling.
In honour of the Vibram fivefingers, my blog picture is changed for a while. They appear still clean and nestling in pristine powder.